Ramon Adams, writer and bibliographer of the American West, son of Cooke M. and Charlie (Colby) Adams, was born at Moscow, Texas, on October 3, 1889. When he was thirteen the family moved to Sherman, where his father operated a jewelry business for twenty years. Adams enrolled in the Sherman Private School, run by John H. LeTellier, in 1903 and entered Austin College as a subfreshman in 1905. He was literary editor of the students' monthly magazine, Reveille, in 1907 but dropped out in 1909; he subsequently returned, however, and graduated in 1912. He also studied violin under Carl Venth at Kidd-Key College in Sherman.
In 1912 he joined the music department at the University of Arkansas, where he taught violin until 1914. While there he married Allie Jarman before moving to Chicago for further training and teaching. After a few years he returned to Texas to head the violin department at Wichita Falls College of Music and lead the orchestra at the Majestic Theater. Later he moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where he continued to play in theater orchestras. His musical career ended when he broke his wrist cranking a Model T Ford. In 1929 Adams and his wife opened a retail candy business in Dallas. It became so successful that they expanded it into a wholesale operation, which lasted until 1955.
Adams had long been interested in Western lore, especially that pertaining to cattle. He privately printed his first book, Poems of the Canadian West, in 1919. He sold his first story to Western Story Magazine in 1923 and published Cowboy Lingo in 1936. A flood of publications followed these. One of his major contributions was capturing the language and habits of the men who rode the range. Cowboy Lingo was followed by Western Words, A Dictionary of the Range (1944); The Old-Time Cowhand (1961), narrated entirely in the language of a cowpuncher; and The Cowman Says It Salty (1971). With these and other works, such as Come an' Get It: The Story of the Old Cowboy Cook (1952), Adams added significantly to the literature of range life. With Homer Britzman he also wrote Charles M. Russell, the Cowboy Artist: A Biography (1948).
With grants from several foundations, Adams ranged far and wide to gather his material, interviewing old-timers, examining private and public collections, and amassing his own sizable library. He became an expert bibliographer and developed a passion for separating the myth from the reality of the West, especially as it related to gunmen. He produced five bibliographical gems: Six-Guns and Saddle Leather (1954), The Rampaging Herd (1959), Burs Under the Saddle (1964), The Adams One-Fifty (1976), and More Burs Under the Saddle (1979).
Adams was a Presbyterian and a member of the Texas Institute of Letters. He was honored by Austin College in 1968 with a Litt.D. degree and remained active into his eighties. He died in Dallas on April 29, 1976.
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Ramon F. Adams, "The Cowman's Philosophy," American West, Fall 1965. Dallas Morning News, May 1, 1976. W. David Laird, "A Dedication to the Memory of Ramon F. Adams, 1889–1976," Arizona and the West 28 (Winter 1986). Howard R. Lamar, ed., The Reader's Encyclopedia of the American West (New York: Crowell, 1977). Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Clippings, January 1977. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
Dramatists and Novelists
Dallas/Fort Worth Region
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Edward Hake Phillips,
“Adams, Ramon Frederick,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 25, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
November 1, 1994
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: